INFLUENCED: Meet Sibu Mpanza—the YouTuber Who's Making a Killing from Just Having Fun
'I am the person I needed when and even before I started my YouTube channel,' the prolific YouTuber says.
OkayAfrica brings you the 2019 INFLUENCED Series. In the coming weeks, we'll be exploring the online communities being fostered by young South Africans who are doing more than just influencing. From make-up gurus and hair naturalistas to socially-conscious thought leaders, get ready to be influenced. Read the rest of the series here.
Years ago, Sibu Mpanza found himself experiencing two realities Black South African students are still battling with even today: crippling financial woes at university and debilitating depression.
An aspiring musician who ended up studying psychology instead at the University of Cape Town, Mpanza began skipping as many classes as he possibly could. He would spend copious amounts of time at a computer hidden away in the corner, passing the hours watching funny videos on YouTube. In fact, he says he spent so much time on YouTube that he was literally one of the very first people to view Beyoncé's epic "711" music video—something Mpanza recalls in stitches.
He was searching for something, although admittedly, he didn't quite know back then what it was exactly. It eventually got so bad that in his second year of university, he packed up his things, dropped out and moved to Johannesburg to see if he could become what he'd always imagined he could eventually be.
Fast-forward to 2019, and the name Sibu Mpanza is not only an undeniable success story but an entire brand.
Mpanza is a full-time YouTuber who has been able to capitalise on creating hilarious content about his life and pretty much anything that interests him. While he initially "blew up" because of a YouTube video he put out, a video which called out White students at the University of the Free State who were recorded beating up protesting Black students at a rugby game, he's since moved onto a second channel, More Mpanza, where he makes content that's a lot more fun, apolitical and doesn't take a toll on his mental health. As if two successful channels weren't enough, he's also got a third channel, Arcade, where he and his business partner talk about things they enjoy in the technology space.
For anyone looking to just let off some steam, watch a YouTuber who's willing to poke fun at himself or find some really quality content in an era where everyone seems to have a YouTube channel about something or the other, Mpanza is definitely your guy.
We caught up with him to talk about what inspired his various YouTube channels, the fame that comes with being a household name and what's really important to the young South African creative.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
From your days at university, what made want to start an online platform and more specifically, a YouTube channel?
One day at University, I came across Caspar Lee who is arguably the biggest YouTuber to come out of South Africa. And at that point, he had already moved to the UK and he had maybe 3 million subscribers. I was like, this is so cool. And I think one of the biggest things for me is for the first time I was happy.
And then I was like, how do I take this happiness that I'm suddenly feeling to the next level? And I thought, why don't I do this myself and I'll see how that makes me feel. And I borrowed a camera and made a tripod stand out of my piano, a Game of Thrones book and one of my mom's Bibles for my first ever YouTube video.
This Is What Depression Looks Like | Sibu Mpanza www.youtube.com
Your content is quite varied, it's not just one specific thing. How did you make the decision in terms of the kind of content that you were going to create?
And honestly, I didn't have an angle. I was just like, one video at a time, whatever I feel like making that week, whatever comes to mind, whatever made me laugh this week, a story that I might've thought about at that point. But then I remember watching a video on Twitter of these guys at the University of the Free State and they were beating these black protesters at a rugby game. And I felt I really wanted to make a video about it.
When I uploaded the video, it received 10,000 views in five days. At that point I was only getting about 200 views a week.
"A lot of people were like, "Please give us more of this content," while others were telling me to kill myself or telling me they're coming to kill me."
People would say things about my family. And I think a lot of people just assumed, because I had done this for two years, that it wasn't taking any toll on me. But then turns out I was just holding all that stuff back and then it got to a point where I was like, nah, this is not worth it.
And then I started my second channel, More Mpanza, and when I was doing just fun blog content, I was like, this feels so much better. I then completely just stopped the other content. My third channel is a tech channel so it's anything and everything that myself and my business partner, George, are enjoying in the tech space. It's called Arcade.
What would you say sets your YouTube channel apart when there are literally thousands of South African YouTube accounts?
I think one of the things that just sets mine apart is that it's old. I think people gravitate towards that "OG legend" idea. And honestly, I would hate for that to become the only thing that's liked about me is that, "Oh, Sibu was one of the pioneers." But at the same time, I think that is a big part of it. I think people have a great respect for me because I was one of the first few. Last week, I was celebrating five years on YouTube, which was the wildest thing to me. I think that's one thing that sets it apart, and I think just the fact that I've lasted this long, and I was able to keep changing the game. A lot of people would say that I've kept innovating what my brand is.
But honestly, I also think it's very easy when my brand is just my personality. I'm obviously going to grow, I'm obviously going to change. So I think that's what's made it easier for me to innovate what YouTube is to me and what YouTube is to South Africans. And I think, yeah, that's what people really enjoy, like I said in the beginning it's also the growth. There's very few YouTubers that you can watch right now that you can say, "I've known you for four years," or, "I feel like I've known you for four years because there's four year's worth of content out there."
From Boyfriend To Baddie | #MoreMpanza www.youtube.com
Would you say that YouTube is your proverbial "9 to 5"?
Yeah, without a doubt. Since 2017, I decided to drop out of varsity, I didn't even write my exams in that year. I just literally left. I told my mom that I was dropping out and also moving to Joburg to try and become something. And the idea wasn't to become a full-time YouTuber. I thought in the beginning that it was not going to happen for about two years and that I'd need to find a job where I could use my video editing skills. I got my first job within a month where a brand was like, yo, here's R30 000, we want you to be a part of this digital campaign with us. And from there, the work just started rolling in and I found myself never actually looking for that nine-to-five and just becoming a full-on content creator.
What does your channel mean to you personally?
It brings me so much happiness. I think I never thought after varsity, well not even after varsity, during varsity, that I'd ever get the creative side of me back. After two years of going completely cold turkey in terms of creativity, I honestly felt like I was dying on the inside. To be able to create content that people see as creative makes my heart sing.
As much as people see this as my job and I think because of my success, people think I'm just a businessman, they don't realize that I enjoy this. That's why I'm able to make three YouTube channels with millions of views because I just really, really enjoy it.
I think one of the biggest things is that I am the person I needed when and even before I started my YouTube channel. Having an audience that understands boundaries has made this a valuable platform. I suffer from depression and anxiety and if I'm having a terrible two weeks, I'm not going to upload. I think I am able to sort of regulate by my mental health in a way.
Reading Your Mean Comments | #MoreMpanza www.youtube.com
What would be your advice to aspiring YouTubers who want to create content but are afraid of how their work may be received in terms of numbers?
I think YouTube, or social media in general, is one of those places where you have to be vulnerable. It's part of the whole idea of courage. I don't think I made this video, but I wanted to make it on my main channel, talking to YouTubers and creators about, I was reading something on this idea that courage and vulnerability is more of the same thing and less on, what can I say, on either side of the spectrum.
"Honestly, the numbers do not matter and shouldn't matter because most of these things are long term games."
Just because you heard of Sibu a month ago and you're like, "Oh my goodness, he has a car, he has an apartment, he's made so much money off of these brand deals", doesn't mean that it happens now. It took me three years to make a cent out of YouTube.
Another thing I like to say is, for the people who are getting 200 views, for the people who are getting 100 views, and they feel like it's a little because there's us who are getting 20k and 50k views, it's a lot of people! If you try to fit in 100 people in your house, that is a lot of people.